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Parades: Identity on display

Parades are celebrations filling the streets of a city with people marching together, for the most various reasons. They are highly designed events, in which costumes play a fundamental part in defining the tone and overall image of the celebration itself.

Parade with local costumes from Messologhi, Greece, 1936-1939. Courtesy Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation

Parades, above all official or military ones, represent the encounter with the necessity to give a ‘face’ to power and the interest in using the ‘spectacle’ to produce consent. For this reason, from the parades originated various ‘bidimensional’ materials that had the role of portraying an ephemeral performance, to record and remember it; these materials are what we use today to know more about these performances. In fact, the most direct and immediate source to get to know something about parades of the past are prints and, where possible, photographs; these materials, together with actual garments and props that survived in museum collections and archives, are for us documents of past practices and also fascinating postcards showing the different ways in which people used to colonise the streets of their city and shape their common national or group identity.

Tinted photo of men with costume from Pontus and a man with military uniform. Courtesy Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation

Even though it is excessive to say that parades can be read as quasi-fashion events, the similarities are hardly deniable. They are both highly controlled, from the timing and choreography to the dresses and walk, and serve to present something, be it a collection or a set of military values, and convey meaning. Fashion historian Caroline Evans has underlined the common features between the first fashion shows held at the beginning of twentieth century and military parades, highlighting the link between the two events, in which dress is central. The design of parade attires is very precise, and each detail has a role in producing the spectacularity of the march: the factors taken into account were multiple, from the sound of medals in movement, to the dimensions and look of accessories and insigna, to the effect of light on the different colours and textures.

Portrait of two hussarl soldiers in their military uniforms, 1843, Courtesy Centraal Museum

Plates depicting uniforms and ‘parade attires’ are very important, not only to understand how the outfit were composed and what details differentiate roles and positions; they also give us information about the way each garment had to be styled and what kind of pose and ‘posture’ they requested, in order to perform in a successful way.

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